Published Wednesday, March 14, 2018 | 12:22 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, March 14, 2018 | 6 p.m.
Thousands of students in the Las Vegas area walked out of class today to protest gun violence after last month’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school.
At Clark High School, more than 400 students filled the football field as the names of the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla., were read aloud. Students observed a minute of silence after each victim’s name was called out.
The walkouts coincided with others happening today across the state and nation.
“This hits home for us, and we want our voices to be heard,” said Gabrielle Debelen, a Clark senior who helped organize the walkout. “We have a lot of students who want to do something about it.”
Debelen, 17, along with a small group of fellow seniors, spent the last week dropping in on classes at Clark to let students know about the walkout and encourage them to join.
Debelen and Clark Principal Jill Pendleton said the walkout was not politically motivated but rather an opportunity for students to advocate for school safety. “It’s about students finding their voice and remembering the lives lost in Florida,” Pendleton said.
The Clark County School District initially said students who participated could be subject to truancy penalties but on Monday said it would let school principals authorize the walkouts.
“As long as the administrators pre-approve the events and students remain safe and on campus, this is an appropriate way for students to express themselves,” School District spokesperson Melinda Malone said in a statement.
Over a dozen students, along with a football coach, athletic director and teacher were among the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, when police say former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, entered the Florida school, activated a fire alarm and open fired at a crowd of students just before classes were scheduled to be dismissed for the day. Seventeen additional people were injured in the shooting.
Cruz was arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors said Tuesday they’re seeking the death penalty for Cruz.
For students at Clark and elsewhere in the Las Vegas Valley, last month’s mass shooting was “the last straw” in a recent string of unprecedented gun violence across the United States.
Fighting back tears as he held a poster with the name of 15-year-old Parkland victim Peter Wang during today’s walkout presentation, Clark student Shivam Saran said the Parkland shooting combined with the October mass shooting on the Strip hit especially close to his heart.
As both a Las Vegas resident and high school student, Saran expressed frustration that elected officials haven’t made progress to restrict access of gun ownership in the U.S.
“The reality is, no human being should have a weapon capable of killing 58 people in a half-hour,” said Saran, a 17-year-old junior. “And yet there hasn’t been any action to solve this problem.”
At Green Valley High School, student Coral Burrell sat with her fist raised during part of the 17-minute silence in front of the school, while parent Manas Mandal stood on the side and observed. Mandal, whose daughter graduated from Green Valley last year, joined the roughly 200 students to advocate a place where students “don’t need to fear for their lives.”
Desert Oasis, Valley and Coronado high schools were among other Las Vegas-area high schools to hold walkout demonstrations today, Malone said. Nearly all of the 49 district high schools, as well as its middle and elementary schools, held events or activities on campus “encouraging student inclusion,” Malone said.
Coronado Principal Mike Piccininni tweeted his support for the walkouts, advocating for students “who lead to impact change.”
“While change may be scary, nurturing and supporting students who are unafraid to act, for the greater good, to ensure the best for their future is something we strive for and will always be proud of,” Piccininni said.
Student leaders of the walkouts encouraged their fellow classmates to stay active in speaking against gun violence. In addition to participating in future demonstrations, they encouraged each other to contact their local lawmakers and, if of age, vote for candidates who back gun control measures.
“Students taking initiative to raise awareness is the best way for us to mitigate this gun violence,” Saran said. “And to prevent an incident like Las Vegas or Parkland from ever happening again.”